By Warwick Smith
Despite once infamously stating that the science behind human induced climate change was “absolute crap”, Tony Abbott has since publicly accepted that climate change really is happening and that he wants to do something about it.
Last week, while in the United States, Tony Abbott declared himself a conservationist:
“I regard myself as a conservationist. Frankly, we should rest lightly on the planet and I’m determined to ensure that we do our duty by the future here.”
Tony Abbott – Interview with James Glenday on ABC Radio National
However, he has also said that he doesn’t believe in harming economic growth in order to protect the environment. Abbott’s claim to be a conservationist should be carefully examined in light of his stance on climate change and on other environmental issues and his prioritisation of the economy over all else. I have spent more than ten years as a conservation biologist and am now an economist. That puts me in a pretty good position to discuss Tony Abbott – the conservationist.
Just as there is virtually no meaningful dissent among climate scientists against the reality of human induced climate change, there is virtually no meaningful dissent among economists to the notion that putting a price on carbon is the most effective and efficient way to reduce carbon emissions.
Much of Abbott’s time as opposition leader was defined by his opposition to Australia’s current carbon price. He claimed the carbon tax would put a “wrecking ball” through the economy, costing jobs and destroying industries. As it turns out, the Australian carbon price is working very effectively to reduce our emissions and Australia is currently experiencing very strong economic growth with an economy that is the envy of the developed world. None of this has prompted even the slightest pause in the Abbott government’s plans to scrap the carbon price despite disproving virtually all of the arguments against it. When the stated reasons for a policy evaporate but the policy remains, we should start to look for the real reasons.
Tony Abbott wants us to believe that he accepts the science of climate change while also supporting the coal industry and its role for decades to come.
“It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future.”
Tony Abbott – Address to the Minerals Week 2014 Annual Minerals Industry Parliamentary Dinner
Abbott would have us believe we can have our cake and eat it too. He thinks leaving our coal in the ground is the most damaging thing possible for our future while our climate scientists believe that not leaving it in the ground is the most damaging thing possible for our future. Surely when it comes to something with such monumental consequences as climate change we should stand with the scientists.
Given Abbott’s overall stance on climate change I think it’s very reasonable to conclude he still thinks that the science behind climate change is absolute crap but he believes he has to hide that to maintain credibility. As Barack Obama recently said, denying climate change is like saying the moon is made out of cheese. Claiming you want to act to prevent climate change but you also support the coal industry for decades to come is just as logically flawed as saying that you believe in human rights while you arbitrarily detain people for an indefinite period.
When you put Tony Abbott’s stance on climate change together with his other notable environmental statements and activities and you get a clear picture of Tony Abbott the conservationist.
“We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.”
Tony Abbott – Address to the 2014 ForestWorks Dinner, Canberra
The simple reality is that Abbott’s stance on the environment is entirely consistent with unquestioning support for mining and energy companies. This is also consistent with his government’s budget which asks normal wage earners and welfare recipients to do the heavy lifting to save us from the invented crises of a budget emergency and unsustainable welfare dependence. Abbott’s actions consistently favour his wealthy backers and other economic elites. He believes in sound economic management – except if it’s against the interests of big mining companies. He believes in ending the age of entitlement – except when it comes to handouts to the wealthy. He believes in conservation – except where it gets in the way of big business. Consistency counts for something I guess.